How You Can Leverage Client Communications to Drive Referrals

Aug 24, 2017

Hopefully, you have had a chance to read the new SEI white paper, What Makes Your Referable: The Elements of Referability, by Steve Wershing and Julie Littlechild.  Julie and Steve make a great, researched-based argument that most advisors focus on tactics, rather than creating an overall strategy to increase their referrals. The paper outlines the steps that advisors can take to increase their referrals from clients and discusses tools that SEI has created to build that referability.

Today, Julie picks up from a recent blog post by Steve, digging into how advisors can leverage advisor communications. She’s got some great ideas, tactical advice and actionable examples.

We will be taking a brief blog hiatus next week for the Labor Day holiday.  Enjoy the last week of summer, and we’ll be back in September.referrals

You’re already investing time and effort in communicating with your clients. But are you doing so in a way that not only engages them, but also drives more referrals?

In his recent guest post, Steve Wershing talked about the importance of understanding the framework for referrals and the impact of a true referral marketing system. Today, I’d like to do a deep dive on the kinds of communications that are most effective as part of that system.

In order to connect the dots between client communications and referrals, I believe that we need to stop doing three things:

  1. We can no longer communicate for the sake of communication. The information we send needs to address real needs, and substance will win out over frequency.
  2. We need to stop talking about ourselves and focus on the client. The information we send needs to focus on the needs of our clients, rather than what we offer.
  3. We need to stop being all things to all people and accept that our communications won’t (and shouldn’t) be right for everyone. Personalization matters, but it’s nearly impossible to achieve when you’re trying to send information that meets the needs of everyone.

It starts with client needs

It’s accepted wisdom that we need input from clients to help us tailor an effective communications plan. This is particularly true if you want those communications to pull double duty and support your referral efforts.

And while you might assume that simply asking clients what they would value is the best way to do that, that strategy will not result in meaningful insights. Why? Because the reality is that most clients don’t know how to answer that question. They don’t know what they don’t know.

To generate real insights on what your clients will value, get creative in how you pose the question. Here are four examples of questions you might ask of clients that would lead to the creation of meaningful communications.

  1. Focus on a specific theme, like their children. How concerned are you that your children are equipped to make good financial decisions?
  2. Identify areas where they are looking for support. What one area of your life would you most like to improve?
  3. Understand their biggest concerns. How would you rate your level of concern with each of the following? (Include a list of potential concerns, such as caring for aging parents.)
  4. Uncover things they want to do. If you could take one week to learn anything new, knowing that everything at work and home was taken care of, what would it be?
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Taking action

On the assumption that you’re working with good insights from clients, let’s talk about taking action. Specifically, let’s look at three client communications strategies that are not only engaging, but will get clients talking about you to others.

1. Become a resource for your clients.

Drawing on the input you receive from clients on their biggest challenges, consider how you can become a resource for them. Let’s look at a few specific examples.

  • Clients tell you they are worried about their young children understanding money and responsibility.
    • You send them a link to Warren Buffet’s website for kids at
    • You offer to meet with the children of your best clients to discuss the financial issues that are relevant for them at that stage (whether that’s saving for a bike or getting a first credit card).
  • Clients tell you they want to improve their health.
    • You bring in a health and wellness speaker for a workshop.
  • Clients tell you they wish they could do something creative, like painting.
    • You invite them to a small-group painting class run by a local artist.

How does this help drive referrals? We’re all hard-wired to share resources with the people we care about. I may not tell everyone about my advisor, but I’ll share an article, an invitation or an idea if I think it will help a friend.

2. Focus on “active” client appreciation.

The idea that we should use client communications to let clients know that we care about the relationship isn’t new. It’s hard to argue that telling clients you appreciate them is a bad thing, so I won’t try. I’ll suggest, however, that if we’re passively appreciating our clients, we’re missing a significant opportunity to engage.

In fact, I believe that client appreciation activities now fall into one of two buckets.

  • Passive client appreciation is focused on the act of saying thank you. The objective is to ensure that clients feel thanked, so you’ve succeeded when you have communicated that thought. Examples would include cards, social events, inviting clients to charitable events or sending gifts.
  • Active client appreciation is focused on helping your clients to get better or solve problems. The objective is to ensure that you are actively supporting your clients, so you’ve succeeded when they succeed. Examples include providing clients with access to financial literacy content for their children or running a workshop that looks at stress reduction or how to protect your personal data online.

Put another way, passive appreciation is an acknowledgement of the relationship. The client is involved by “accepting” the appreciation. Active appreciation provides real support. The client is involved by using the appreciation to affect positive change, so you’ll benefit from providing more active appreciation.

How does this drive referrals? Friends share stories about positive change; you want to be part of that story they tell.

3. Take an integrated approach to marketing.

Too often, we treat client communications and marketing as if they’re two separate things. If your goal is to drive more referrals, these two things should be tightly aligned. The message you send to prospects should be consistent with the message you send to clients. And, better still, integration means you can leverage client communications to attract new clients for greater efficiency.

Here’s a sample process of a plan that results in shareable content that actively supports your clients and can be leveraged to attract prospects.

  1. Pick a theme or concern that is important to your clients. It might be raising financially independent children, philanthropic giving or managing cash flow in small businesses. Whatever it is should reflect the stated needs of your clients.
  2. Invest an hour of your time and identify three great articles, from credible sources, that relate to your theme. As you’re reading those articles, identify the five most common questions the authors are answering.
  3. Send an email to clients, highlighting those questions and linking to one of the articles. Then, link to that article on social media, send the link to prospects and pass it along to your centers of influence.
  4. 2-4 weeks later, email the next article, summarizing the key message. Then, repeat the social media share, prospect and center of influence communications.
  5. 2-4 weeks after that, email the final article with the summary. This time, include a P.S. that indicates you will be bringing clients together for a discussion on the topic and they should look for the invitation. And once again, repeat the social media share, prospect and center of influence communications.
  6. Two weeks later, send an invitation to a small event on that same topic.
  7. One week after the event, send a summary of the key takeaways from the event and send that to clients, prospects and COIs. Create a single slide with those takeaways and post it on social media and create a “client-friendly” summary for COIs to share with their clients.
  8. Follow-up with key clients, prospects and COIs to see if they have questions or want to meet.

The entire client communication campaign takes 7-12 weeks to execute. If you did nothing else, you would have added significant value for your clients, prospects and centers of influence. The big difference is that you focused your energy on a single theme, which makes you more efficient and more likely to get referred to clients facing that same challenge.

Sometimes making yourself more referable means tweaking existing strategies and tactics, rather than creating something completely new. In this case, it’s all about leveraging existing client communications to drive more referrals.

Julie Littlechild is speaker, writer and the founder of Her firm helps advisors design their client and team experiences to support a compelling personal vision for the future. She can be reached at

The opinions and views expressed herein are those of Julie Littlechild. SEI bears no responsibility for their accuracy. Julie Littlechild and Absolute Engagement are not affiliated with SEI or its subsidiaries.

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John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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